nytheatre.com review by Rohana Elias-Reyes
May 17, 2009
The Metropolitan Playhouse is known for presenting quality productions that examine contemporary American culture, frequently through the lens of early American works. The actors are skilled, the costumes lovely, and the set design and staging use the small performance space, surrounded on three sides by the audience, to advantage.
Unfortunately, Cosmic Brew the current offering for children and families, does not reflect the Metropolitan Playhouse's standard level of production. It's too bad, because when two musicians in colorful costumes carrying a trombone and clarinet enter and seat themselves in the front row of the audience, followed immediately by Sylvie Degiez's entrance as The Great "Even" in a silver space ship, expectations are high. It develops that her ship has broken down and the way to fix it is for the children in the audience to sing an eight-note scale and hold the tone that matches the sound the engine made when it was working; a cute idea and completely sufficient for the plot of a show introducing children to the musical scale. The problem is that Degiez (who in addition to playing the lead, also wrote, directed, and designed the lights and costumes) apparently didn't feel that was enough and added numerous other seemingly random elements that never develop. These include characters such as Yin, Yang, and Narcissus; a rainbow ribbon tent; a candy giveaway; and a magic show interlude. In spite of the performers' openness and obvious delight in engaging the children in the audience, Cosmic Brew is a confusing hodgepodge, more a series of ideas than a finished production.
The frequent chaos on stage didn't stop my daughter from greatly enjoying the whole event, particularly the times she and the other kids in the audience were invited to participate. She was not at all disturbed that she had no idea who anyone was, what their relationships were, what they were doing, or why. Her summary is simple and completely devoid of the musical information the show sought to impart: "a monster made a mess and wanted to leave without cleaning it up; there were also two people who kept arguing, but I don't know why. I got two pieces of candy! I liked the whole thing."
I, on the other hand, had the vertiginous time-traveling feeling that I had fallen into an early '90s ABC No Rio performance art experience inspired by a particularly good haul at Materials for the Arts; only this time, I was surrounded by small children rather than members of the downtown avant-garde and it was 11am rather than 11pm. Perhaps that's appropriate for a theater that includes examining the history of the Lower East Side in its mission, but for my part I would like the Metropolitan Playhouse to treat my child to the same high level production values that I have enjoyed at so many of its adult (for lack of a better term) shows.